Wednesday, February 24, 2010

We Don't Trust the Brits Either

I've written before about the blockhouse in Warsaw and the wrecking of traffic patterns in Tallinn. The message that US embassies send is that we have to protect our diplomats from those damn furriners.

It has always seemed to me that when you choose a profession, you choose its hazards too. Perhaps I am less risk-averse than most, but I stayed in Almaty, Kazakhstan, for several weeks in a fifth-floor walkup Soviet-era apartment. I could hear the kids playing in the central area with swings and sandbox. "Iiiiiivannn" seemed to be a particular terror, in the way that some kids are.

I bought tomatoes and fruit from street vendors and smetana and an Oral-B toothbrush in the "supermarket" on the corner, more like what we think of as a 7-11.

Meanwhile, the big American hotel and the embassy were not too far away, both with formidable high fences around them and black SUVs for transport. The embassy wasn't quite as bad as some.

So I think Steven Walt and the Avuncular American get it right about this new embassy planned for London. Concrete barriers galore, a moat with water, even, and a single highly-guarded entrance. The building is set back from the street some distance, and I suspect that the glassy looking stuff is a facade over a windowless concrete cube. Subtler than razor wire, but keeping the furriners out nonetheless.

In contrast, Nukes and Spooks likes the building. Not so fortress-like as some others, they say. I guess they missed all those keep-away features, although they show the picture I've got here. Maybe those reporters were in the SUVs going into that American hotel.

There's reason for protection and prudence at our embassies. I walked less widely in Almaty than in Tallinn because I don't speak Russian. US embassies are targets for all sorts of malcontents. But buildings like this, even in a friendly country, say that we don't trust the people of that country and inhibit our diplomats from interacting with those people. And they should be in the cities where the people are.

Update: Here's the Armchair Generalist with links to other critics.

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